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Client Newsletters.....to go High Tech or to go Old School?

We recently re-launched our client newsletter Boardwalk, which hit mailboxes in early February (not on our mailing list?  Please send an email to info@associationsplus.ca and we’d be happy to add you!).  As part of this move, we debated the merits of a hard copy newsletter vs an email newsletter, and opted to go the ‘old school’ hard copy route for a number of reasons:

  1. More so than with an electronic newsletter, we feel the hard copy newsletter will give us better opportunity to show off our desktop publishing and design skills
  2. There are just so many e-newsletters out there…..we felt this might help to set us apart
  3. There was a personal preference from a majority of the staff for a hard copy vs e-newsletter….including myself, I often forego e-newsletters, however I will take a hard copy magazine or newsletter to read on the long commute home
  4. Given the pending anti-spamming legislation (Bill C-28) coming into effect in the near future, the requirements around email distribution vs hard copy distribution are much more onerous
  5. The hard copy format better accommodates for potential advertising

So, has the re-launch been a success?  Hard to tell at this point, however we did have one newsletter recipient reach out to let us know that a particular article had resonated with him.  The key elements we have looked to incorporate into this quarterly communication piece are as follows:

  • Article(s) on issues of relevance to volunteers working with member-based industry associations (our last issue included an article on how to engage generation Y in volunteerism, board bullies, and the value of industry conferences)
  • Book review – each issue will feature a review of a business book
  • Volunteer recognition – the winter issue featured an interview with two Gen Y volunteers, as well as a profile of a student volunteer
  • Alignment to the A+ brand

We’re excited for this new initiative and are thrilled to have another way to reach out to our clients and showcase our expertise.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=18


Bullying in the Boardroom

The third week of November is National Bullying Awareness Week in Canada (www.bullying.org)
Bullying is not just in the playground, or school hallways at schools, sometimes it is even perpetrated by board members of not-for-profit societies and professional associations. I get a lot of questions on how to manage individual members of a board who are applying pressure, intimidation, ostracization, or other disrespectful, or malicious behaviour to get their way when other members question the status quo, decision making process, or stand for certain ethical practices. I can’t say I have the answers, and it turns out there is very little research out there on this phenomenon in the not-for-profit world... read more


Examples of bullying behaviour might include a dictatorial chair applying excessive pressure to make certain business or policy decisions, self-dealing where a board member applies intimidation to achieve inappropriate favors and benefits, or even sexual harassment.

Just as in childhood bullying, the bullied tend to keep quiet rather than confront and expose bullying behaviour. The rest of the board are apt to continue to perform their board duties for some time (likely because they are conscientious people, or for fear of being branded a complainer or whiner). It is similar in the workplace where employees will continue to work in a toxic environment for fear of losing their jobs. But, these are not employees, they are volunteers. They do not “need” to stay (and mostly new volunteers don’t in my experience).

I was once on a board where most of the board members seemed to have become complicit with bullying behavior when it was discussed in an in camera meeting, even supplying reasons to justify it; “He’s always been that way,” “I know he means well,” “I don’t really mind…” While, at the same time, several of these board members outside meetings would vent, or share their misery, over lunch or a drink.

I have also experienced a form of dissonance where non-bullying board members attack or stand against an individual member trying to raise red flags about bullying behaviour. Some board members refuse to see it, or take action.

So what is the recourse? There is no easy solution when it comes to board bullies. It is in the best interest of boards to implement measures such as a code of conduct, an evaluation process, and/or term limits for board membership (though these may be difficult to institute if there is a bullying member against these safeguards). Training and education on the ethical and legal roles and responsibilities of boards, and individual board members, may help people understand some of the issues from a governance standpoint rather than a personal standpoint. We also need more research and understanding on this form of bullying. If you would like to share your stories, and solutions, with us (confidentially, of course) I am open to setting up an online, or in-person group discussion around some best practices that we, the bullied, have discovered to prevent bullying in the boardroom.

Lori Farley

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=17


Email Don'ts....Keeping it Professional

If all email is to believed, I am sure we have all been multi-millionaires a hundred times over thanks to the generosity of some long lost relative, or that poor persecuted prince from Nigeria.  The advent of email communication has improved workplace efficiencies and provided for instant access in a remarkable way, however it also comes with its share of headaches, such as scammers and spammers.  But what do you do when the email in question is not from some high ranking Nigerian official looking for your assistance in accessing $26 million, but from a work associate?


Okay, it is unlikely that a work associate will send you a phishing scam email, however it is highly probable that at some point during your career, a colleague will send you an email that will have you shaking your head and thinking to yourself “did they actually just type my name into that ‘To:’ field, and send this email to me?”  While a huge fan of email myself, if not for email the 200+ emails I receive a day this communication would be coming in via phone and fax (shudder), I occasionally find myself facing down an email communique that can only be described as downright unprofessional.

Case in point:

  • Inappropriate jokes – while I consider myself to have a great sense of humor, and love a good joke, if I have only met you once for a brief five minute discussion in a business setting, that likely does not warrant me a spot on your jokester email list.  Wait at least until we meet for a second time.
  • Requests for financial support for your daughter’s Girl Guides cookie drive – if we are on friendly terms, by all means email away….use discretion here.  A good barometer for this: if I don’t know enough about you or your life to know that you even have a daughter, then it is probably wise to leave me off the request
  • Foul language – just don’t.  There were 470,000 entries in the 1993 edition of Webster’s dictionary, so I am fairly certain you can find a myriad of alternate words that are not four letters.  Emails are forever, they can be forwarded, they can be printed out, they can be shared with entire contact lists, so conduct yourself accordingly.
  • ALL CAPS RAGE – avoid the use of all caps, which is akin to shouting at someone.  There are much more effective and professional ways to communicate your displeasure.  A woman in New Zealand was actually fired back in 2009 for her email style sins, which included the use of all caps and red text (http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10322998-71.html).
  • Proof your emails.  While I cut some slack for those sending emails on their mobile devices, I am still an advocate for reviewing your emails for accuracy and spelling prior to hitting send.  I will completely dismiss a resume or job application that comes in with typos in the email cover note.
  • I recently received an email invitation to a new church opening from an individual I met once three years ago…the sentence “if you are not into building faith in God/increasing your own inner peace/light, please completely disregard this email” was actually used.  No further elaboration is required here.
  • Not sure if that email is too harsh/irate/inappropriate?  Step away from it for an hour, or vet it through a brutally honest co-worker.  Once it’s out there, it’s out there!

Email is not a passing fad, it is here to stay (or will continue to evolve with new social media tools).  Observe the common sense rules of ‘netiquette’ and type away!

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=16


Policy Development....Gulp....

I delivered a board governance workshop this past weekend, and as per usual when I came to the module on policy development, I sensed fear in the eyes of the participating board members.  What is it about policy development that sends people into a tailspin?


As part of the easing-in process for this workshop module on policy development, I ask the board to come up with a list of reasons on why it is a good idea to have policies.  The group is always able to identify a solid list of reasons why associations should have written policies:

  • Promotes consistency in organization’s actions
  • Directs future activities of the board and staff
  • Ensure that actions tie back to the organizational mission
  • Allows the board to delegate authority while maintaining control
  • Provides proper guidelines for decision-making while reducing the opportunity for bias
  • Clarifies the boards’ governing style
  • Efficiency – reduces repeat conversations
  • Outlines clear expectations
  • Proactive rather than reactive

Inevitably though, despite the many pros to policies as noted above, this is an area with which many organizations struggle.  Why is that?

For starters, policy development can seem like a daunting process.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There are many great tools out there to help organizations with getting a start on a policy manual.  Need to develop a travel policy?  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Pick one of the many existing sample travel policies available online, and make it your own.  Get your staff, committee members and those board members most in the know in any one particular area involved in the process.  As a board, identify the highest priority policies – this will vary from organization to organization, although as a rule policies around financial management, board governance and programs tend to be most critical.

Take care not to confuse procedure with policy: a policy is a pre-determined course of action, whereas the procedure documents how the policy will be carried out.  As part of the policy development process, identify the process for policy approval and incorporate a regular review of policy (a policy on policy-making, if you will).  Policies can be amended at the board level, unlike bylaw changes which require membership approval, so don’t get bogged down in trying to develop the perfect policy that will stand the test of time – no policy is set in stone, and policies can be changed to adapt to changing business environments.

Beginning the process of policy development will force your board to operate at a governance level – where your board members’ time and focus is best served.     

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=12


What am I agreeing to?

How can you ensure that you get volunteers with the coveted skill set that your organization is lacking?  And how can your organization ensure that the time and energy of your valued volunteers is being best utilized?  It all starts at the beginning – with a well-crafted volunteer position description. 


I participated in a webinar hosted by VolunteerMatch earlier today, “Writing Accurate and Useful Position Descriptions” which emphasized the importance of this critical activity.  At a minimum, a good volunteer position description should include the following:

  • Position title
  • Description of reporting relationships (who do they report to?  who reports to them?)
  • Description of role
  • Primary responsibilities
  • Secondary responsibilities
  • Skills and experience required
  • Time commitment
  • Specific deliverables, if applicable

If your organization does not already have a good set of volunteer position descriptions, get your volunteers involved in writing their own descriptions.  This could be an eye-opener – you may find that the position expectations of the volunteer differ from that of the board.  Tie the role back to the organizational mission – show how the responsibilities of this position fit in big-picture and what the impacts are to the association. 

Key to providing a valuable volunteer experience is to be respectful of volunteer time – this can be accomplished by ensuring that the required skill set for a chosen role is identified.  This in effect creates a career path within your organization and allows a volunteer to maximize their growth as well as providing a realistic snapshot of position expectations.  Your volunteer needs to know what they are agreeing to.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=11


$10 million is the new hefty price tag for unsolicited email blasts!!

Under Bill C-28, anti-spamming legislation which will likely come into effect in second quarter 2012, an organization can be fined up to $10 million for transgressions to the act – which translates to 10 million reasons to ensure your organization is in compliance.  For member-based associations, this legislation will impact who is appropriate to be included on your email distribution lists (which will involve database housekeeping and likely additional development) as well as ensuring that specific parameters around email communiques are met. 


The latter is simple enough to adhere to.  Email correspondence (and text messages – this legislation also applies to this form of electronic communication) will be required to identify the sender as well as who the message is being sent out on behalf of.  Subject lines must accurately reflect the message content and full sender contact information (including postal address) must be included in all emails.

The former, however, will require a bit more planning to ensure compliance – particularly for those organizations who reach out to former members or event registrants as part of their standard sales marketing efforts (whether it may be for potential membership sales or promotion of upcoming events).  There are two types of consent to consider under this legislation: express and implied.  In order to obtain express consent (which is the level of consent all organizations should be striving to obtain from their stakeholders) a documented positive confirmation (an ‘opt-in’) is required.  Procurement of this express consent will give your organization free reign to email the individual on your full range of products and services.  Implied consent is a limited consent recognized for two years as derived from an existing business relationship.  For example, Joe Brown purchases a publication or an event registration from your organization – this implied consent will now be in effect for two years from the date of purchase, thereby giving your organization two years to be legally allowed to email Joe Brown in regards to other products and services relating to your organization (assuming that during that period he has not requested an unsubscribe – in which case emails to Joe Brown must cease within 10 business days of his request).  Data management systems will need to be enhanced to recognize these new date allowances.

Although there will definitely be some work involved for organizations to ensure they are in compliance with C-28, this is also an excellent opportunity to reach out to these individuals as you strive to obtain the coveted express consent.  Tell them why they want to be on your list for email blasts.  Tell them about why they should continue to receive your email communiques.  Tell them about the advantages your organization provides and how they will benefit from being kept in the loop.  Furthermore, if your organization is not currently engaging in social media, now is the time!  Posting information on your LinkedIn or Facebook page is not considered spamming, and as more organizations start to move away from the traditional email marketing model I predict we will see an increase of activity in the social media world (I also predict we may see a slight increase in direct mail marketing for anyone taking bets).

There are much better ways for your organization to spend $10 million, so ensure that you are in the know.  Further details on C-28 can be found at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ecic-ceac.nsf/eng/h_gv00567.html.

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=10


Do you have gender diversity on your board?

Do you have gender diversity on your board?    The Financial Post Women in Business issue was released yesterday.  This issue recognizes Canada’s top 100 female business minds from private, public and nonprofit sectors.  Among the female rah rah-ness, there was some very interesting information in this issue:

  • Norway, Spain and France have quotas in place for female board participation on corporate boards; 96% of Canadian CEO’s oppose bringing this same model to Canada
  • The Association of British Insurers issued a report in September which encouraged gender balance on boards stating that women “appear to be better at explicitly identifying criteria for measuring and monitoring the implementation of corporate strategy as compared with all-male boards” and “boards with better gender balance pay more attention to audit, risk oversight and control”
  • Further to this last comment, hedge funds run by female investment managers returned an annual average of 3.2% more than male-led funds (9% and 5.8% repectively)
  • 15% of Canadian board seats are held by women
  • Walmart, love it or hate it, is quite engaged in empowering their female staff  - there is a strong emphasis on building female leaders, which is evident in the fact that half of the leadership team (including the CEO and President and CIO) is female
  • More women than men are earning MBA’s, however these same women start, on average their first post-MBA job making US$4600 less than their male counterparts (this wage gap widens to US$31,258 mid-career)

I enjoyed reading about these inspiring women, and was particularly impressed by the career diversity represented – the list includes professionals, entrepreneurs, corporate directors, future leaders.  The best quote of the issue came from Gale Blank, CIO of Walmart Canada: “I’m putting on my epitaph ‘Don’t do a half-ass job’.  I was a waitress for many years, but I was a good waitress.”

Post direct link: http://associationsplus.ca/index.php?page=blog/index.php&id=9


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